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Songzanlin Lamasery

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Introdution
Known as a "mini-Potala Palace," in Shangri-La County, southwest China's Yunnan Province. Built in 1679 in the Qing Dynasty and covering an area of 330,000 sq m, the Songzanlin Lamasery is the largest of its kind for Tibetan Buddhism in Yunnan. It is one of Yunnan's most famous destinations for pilgrims and a popular tourist attraction.

History & Background
Built in 1679, the monastery is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan province and is sometimes referred to as the Little Potala Palace. Located in the capital of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, it is also the most important monastery in southwest China.

It belongs to the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism of the Gelukpa order of the Dalai Lama. The Fifth Dalai Lama's Buddhist visionary zeal established the monastery in Zhongdian, in 1679. Its architecture is a fusion of the Tibetan and Han Chinese. It was extensively damaged in the Cultural Revolution and subsequently rebuilt in 1983; at its peak, the monastery contained accommodation for 2,000 monks; it currently accommodates in its rebuilt structures 700 monks in 200 associated houses.

Because of the popularity of James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon (1933), which introduced Shangri-La and is said have been written on an inspirational theme of "the Tibetan Buddhist Scriptures, where human beings, animals, and nature lived in harmony under the rule of a Tibetan", the Chinese authorities changed the name of Zhongdian County to Shangri-La County in 2001, as the city claims to be the source of inspiration for Hilton's novel. The earlier names were – the Zhongdian to the Chinese, and Gyalthang to the Tibetans, of the town which has predominantly Tibetan population. The name of the county's capital town was similarly changed from Jiantang to Shangri-la. The ambiance of the town is distinctly Tibetan with prayer flags fluttering, mountains known by holy names, lamaseries and rocks inscribed in Tibetan language with Buddhist sutras.

Structures
The Monastery built in the 17th century as the largest Buddhist monastery in Yunnan province, after a revelation by the Fifth Dalai Lama is in accordance with Tibetan traditional architectural style. It has six main structures including eight colleges. The entrance gate is at the foot of the hill and provides access to the main hall of the monastery through 146 steps.

In the main hall of the monastery, more than 1500 monks congregate to recite the Buddhist scriptures. This hall houses a plethora of scriptures written on palm leaves, a gilded statue of Shakyamuni Buddha which is 8 metres (26 ft) tall at the main altar along with paintings depicting the life of Buddha. The altar has permanent decorated by yak butter lamps.

The monastery has two major lamasery buildings – Zhacang and Jikang – apart from several smaller lamaseries. Numerous living rooms have also been built for the monks to reside. The main monastery structure built in Tibetan style has a gilded copper roof similar to the one at the Potala Monastery in Lhasa. The other buildings in the complex are built in Han Chinese style.

The road from the old town of the city, leads to the scripture chamber, which was earlier a Red Army Memorial hall to commemorate the Red Army's long march in the 1930s. At the opposite end of this hall, across the street is the Gulshan Park, which has a monastery with a commanding view of the town and its surroundings.

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